Paint Problems in Historic Structures

October 28, 2011

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Exterior paint is constantly deteriorating through the processes of weathering. However in a program of regular maintenance–assuming all other building systems are functioning correctly–surfaces can be cleaned, lightly scraped, and hand sanded in preparation for a new finish coat. Unfortunately, these are ideal conditions.

More often, complex maintenance problems are inherited by owners of historic buildings, including areas of paint that have failed beyond the point of simple cleaning, scraping, and hand sanding (even though much so-called “paint failure” is because of interior or exterior moisture issues or surface preparation and application errors with prior coats).

Even though paint problems are under no circumstances unique to historic buildings, treating multiple layers of hardened, brittle paint on complex, decorative–and possibly fragile–exterior wood surfaces inevitably requires an enormously careful approach.

In the case of new construction, this degree of worry just isn’t needed since the wood is usually less detailed and, in addition, retention from the sequence of paint layers as a partial record of the property’s history just isn’t an concern.

When historic buildings are involved, however, a distinctive set of problems arises–varying in complexity based upon their period, architectural style, historical significance, and physical soundness from the wood–which needs to be cautiously evaluated to ensure that decisions may be made that are sensitive to the longevity of the resource.

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